Sunshine helps make whale of a parade day

Children (and a dog) lead the way down First Street in Langley at the ninth annual Welcome to the Whales Day Parade and Festival Saturday afternoon. Organizers estimate that up to 1

Both the sunshine and a healthy crowd turned out for the ninth annual Welcome to the Whales Day Parade and Festival in Langley on Saturday.

The 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. event featured educational displays, slide shows and activities along with costume-making, music, the ever popular parade and a presentation by an out-of-state whale specialist.

Sherry Jennings, communications director for the Langley Chamber of Commerce, estimated that about 1,000 people attended the parade, which she said was probably the most successful to date.

“It’s the largest so far,” Jennings said. “It grows every year.”

The day-long event was so popular, even a few whales made an appearance. Earlier that morning, three gray whales were spotted from the waterfront feeding in the waters of Saratoga Passage.

Whales Day, which partners with Bayview’s Earth Day on Sunday, is held every year to honor and celebrate the arrival of resident gray whales to Whidbey Island. It was organized by the Orca Network based in Greenbank, the chamber and Homeplace Special Care in Oak Harbor.

According to Susan Berta, co-founder of Orca Network, Homeplace was a generous sponsor and enabled event organizers to host Dr. Bruce Mate of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute as a guest speaker.

His presentation, held at the Langley United Methodist Church on Anthes Avenue, drew an inquisitive crowd that asked a lot of questions, Berta said. At about 80 to 90 people, it was also pretty large.

“That’s about double what we usually get, especially on a sunny day,” Berta said.

But the main attraction of the day was still the parade. It was a little

different this year in that instead of starting on Cascade Avenue, paraders started in the US Bank parking lot and marched the length of Second Street before heading down First Street and through Thomas Hadley Memorial Park to the waterfront.

From there, several speakers took to the microphone to talk about and offer a blessing to the whales.

The aptly-named Carolyn Graye also led the crowd in a song that carried the tune of “Wade in the water” but with lyrics that had been changed to “Whales on the water, whales have to swim in the water.”

Another memorable part of this year’s parade was that the grand marshal  hailed from Houston, Texas. Carroll Smith and his wife, Molly, were in town visiting and learned of the event.

Because it coincided with Carroll’s birthday, Molly arranged for him to serve as grand marshal. He wasn’t told of the plan until that day, however, and was surprised with the news and a banner that read, “Happy birthday Carroll. A whale of a guy.”

Carroll, who joked that he would indeed let this go to his head, said they have visited Langley several times. And, it’s because of experiences such as this that they have grown especially fond of the Village by Sea.

“We’ve just fallen in love with this little community,” Carroll said.